Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Learning to give myself a break....

...Or: 12 days is different than 12 months

So our passports have been burning a hole in our pocket pretty much since 6 months after our return from our RTW trip. But we've had a lot of things to take care of first:
- Selling a house in Minnesota
- Moving cross-country
- Finding a place to live in Portland
- Finding jobs in Portland
- Getting half-way through an MBA program
- Etc.

But once we had gotten somewhat settled we realized that we really, really needed another taste of travel before that might involve carting along a diaper bag.

Turkey was one of the countries on our original RTW trip list that got squeezed out when we decided to slow down and spend more time in fewer places and it remained near the top of our want-to-see list. Plus it seems like everyone we spoke with either had just returned from there or knew someone that had and couldn't say enough good things. So the decisions was made in December: come Brian's next semester break we'd be cashing in the last of our NW frequent flier miles (before they mysteriously 'disappear' in the Delta merger) and be Istanbul-bound.

One of the hardest things to get used to though has been the difference in planning this trip versus dealing with seeing new countries on the RTW trip. The very first thing that slapped us in the face was the reality of having to fit a visit into a two-week vacation instead of being able to take as many weeks as we thought we needed to see what we wanted to see. (And we were only able to do 2 weeks because Brian negotiated that as part of accepting his new job in February..otherwise we wouldn't be able to be away nearly that long).

So I was reading guide books and making lists of places to see and kept crying out "what do you MEAN we can't just take a month plus to explore???? How can ANYBODY be expected to go to a new place for only 12 days??? It's almost not even worth going!" Yes, I do realize how ridiculous that sounds; it has helped reinforce how unique an experience we had before and how fortunate we were to have done it. Eventually I narrowed down our destinations to 4 cities/villages in relative close geographic proximity that would allow us both to explore/experience a little bit of Turkey but also have a chance for some sorely needed rest and recovery in between grad school semesters.

Figuring out logistics was the next hurdle. Again, on the RTW trip we would have taken mostly local buses or trains and would have viewed circuitous routes, uncertain timetables or long stop-overs as part of the charm. But with only 12 days (there it is again) it didn't make sense to spend an entire one of them trying to travel 35 miles via tortuous connections. Thus all of sudden we found ourselves planning on an internal flight to get from Istanbul to the west coast and back and renting a car to navigate between west coast cities.

The same sort of rethinking happened with hotels. During the trip we found the best policy (outside of high season in europe/chinese new year in Siem Reap, etc.) was to wait until we arrived in city to choose a place to stay. That usually led to cheaper lodgings and also meant we wouldn't have pre-paid for a place that didn't live up to its advertising. In this case, we are traveling during shoulder season or at the very very beginning of high season. Normally that would be even more reason to use our old strategy. But in some of the small villages we're going to it was unclear how many places would be open yet, and we discovered that our return to Istanbul coincided with a Formula 1 race. And we didn't feel like spending a chunk of our sightseeing/exploring time doing the hostel/hotel shuffle. However when we looked into reserving ahead of time we found that most of the hotels wanted us to transfer money to a bank account to reserve a room (vs just being able to give them a cc number).

Before I knew it, I found myself contacting an Istanbul-based travel agency that had come very highly recommended by a good friend (and by Rick Steves). I presented them with the itinerary I had come up with, asked them to suggest changes if the logistics wouldn't work, and had them make the flight and rental car and hotel (not hostel) reservations and arrange all the payments.

Doing that made me feel guilty and wimpy; basically it felt like a total cop-out. It was like our experience on the RTW trip had brainwashed us into thinking that the only valid method of traveling was on a shoe-string budget with logistics that you manage entirely on your own and with the flexibility to not have set plans. And that certainly is a great way to travel and one that I hope we get to do again in the future. But what gets lost in the haze of nostalgia is how much energy it takes to travel that way, and how tiring it can be to always be planning, and paying attention, and figuring things out and dealing with uncertainty.

After a couple of weeks of flogging myself, I think I've finally convinced myself that it's just as valid to go on a trip where things are planned ahead of time (and yes, even where someone else has done a lot of that work planning for you - travel agents need to earn a living too), so that you can be relaxed and just enjoy and be able to focus all your attention on what you are seeing and experiencing around you instead of having half a brain working on where you'll sleep that night.

So repeat after me: 12 days is different than 12 months. Both are good.


(and yes, I am fully aware of the irony of my formerly psycho type A+ personality self actually struggling with planning more instead of planning less. Who says traveling around the world for a year doesn't change you? )

No comments: